22 December 2009

Book review — A Proverbs Driven Life, by Anthony Selvaggio

by Dan Phillips

A Proverbs Driven Life, by Anthony Selvaggio
(Shepherd Press: 2008; 201 pages)

I am reading and scanning a number of books as I work (delightedly and feverishly) on my own Proverbs book for Kress, and this is one of them.

A Proverbs Driven Life is neither a commentary nor strictly a study. The tone is largely pastoral, and the style is very readable. Pastor Selvaggio singles out a number of themes from Proverbs, and discusses them in a whole-canon setting. The themes are work, wealth, and relationships, with a focus on marriage and parenting.

A weakness of the book is that Selvaggio virtually never deals at all with the Hebrew text of Proverbs. Hence, a number of his critical definitions either are systematic, or are based on the English word. For instance, he defines wisdom as "an ability to make good decisions based on knowledge, and then act on those decisions in a way that’s effective and makes a difference" (14), and says that it "is about using knowledge well" (15). Perhaps, but that is not really the core sense of the Hebrew word; nor does Selvaggio demonstrate his definition from the text at all.

Also — endnotes! Brr-r-r-r.

In the plus-column: Selvaggio approaches Proverbs as a Christian, and sets it in the context of the whole Bible. He has some brief but solid reflections on Christ as the embodiment and source of the sort of wisdom Proverbs idealizes.

Further, though Selvaggio does not treat the interpretation and application of Proverbs at length, he does give some admirably concise, helpful guidelines. To wit:
  1. Use basic logic (17-18; i.e. don’t make 13:11 say that all loss of money necessarily indicates dishonest gain)
  2. Don’t read any proverb in isolation (18)
  3. Don’t put God on your timetable (18-19)
  4. Make God the goal of your obedience (19).
Also, the book communicates a good bit of pastoral wisdom in critical areas of marriage and parenting. I appreciate that Selvaggio has a word — not just for those who have not yet made choices or commitments, but also — for those who have made sinful or unwise choices or decisions. Academic treatments may have more grounding and substance, but they seldom display a good, experienced pastor's heart in their treatment of the text as Selvaggio does.

For instance:
Younger Christians in particularly would often assess their prospective spouses much like Israel assessed the Gibeonites. They relied solely on their reason and the external facts as the basis for entering into a vow. They failed to reflect thoughtfully or inquire deeply of God before speaking a vow meant to last a lifetime (31)
However, I didn't love Selvaggio's apparently-approving quotation of William Arnot in the context of finding a mate: “Our Father loves to be consulted in this great life-match for his children, and they who ask His advise [sic] will not be sent away without it” (144). So... ask God which one of the hundreds of thousands of eligible singles to marry, and He'll.... do what? Offer His opinion? Verbally? By direct revelation? Perhaps a vision? This offers false hope (and imposes a false, unbearable burden) without Biblical warrant; thankfully, it is an exception.

(The lesson there, children, is: just because a guy's dead, doesn't mean he's Canon. Know what I mean?)

I was also a bit stunned at Selvaggio's blunt and unqualified insistence that a person whose mate has committed adultery should number himself/herself among the finger-pointing accusers of the (textually dubious) John 8:1-11, and basically just let it go (166). Wow. Readers will find a much more Biblically satisfying approach to such situations in Chris Brauns' book. I actually, literally looked at the blank remainder of that page and the next page, to make sure I hadn't missed something. I hadn't. Yikes.

My final thought is: I sure wish I'd thought of the title first!

But, alas, I didn't.


Dan Phillips's signature


Nash Equilibrium said...

From the final sentence of your review, it sounds like you are hinting that while you can't judge a book by its cover, perhaps in this case the author should hope that we will?

DJP said...

You got that from "Sigh"?


Nash Equilibrium said...

OK, "the next to penultimate sentence." I never was very precise!

DJP said...

"next to penultimate" = "next to next-to-last"

I like it!

Phil said...

Thanks Dan

Aric said...

If a non-Hebrew reading/speaking person wanted to find out meanings of the Hebrew words, any recommended resources? (What about Greek?). Thanks.

hines418 said...

I don't know much about Hebrew and I attempted to research it, but have found no good answer. What is the core definition of the Hebrew word for wisdom? Thanks.

JackW said...

I donno ... anything that has "Driven Life" on it gets a pass from me usually.

Proverbs is one of my least favorite books and I'm not sure why. So something that would make me want to fix that short sighted view of mine would work better for me.

Has "The Foolish Man's Guide to Proverbs" been taken?

DJP said...

Dang; that wouldn't fit my book, but I like it. May have to do a second!

Nash Equilibrium said...

I might write a book called "Proverbs for Politicians," now that my eyes have been opened to the commercial possibilities of same, via this blogpost. Proverbs 17:8 comes to mind right away!

Rick Potter said...


I completely missed the other post announcing your great fortune so I'll congratulate you here. I look forward to the book as I have always been blessed by your wisdom from Proverbs.


Herding Grasshoppers said...

"My final thought is: I sure wish I'd thought of the title first!"

Dan... NO. Just, NO.

No more books with "driven" in the title!

But I'm looking forward to it, whatever you name it.


Anonymous said...

What is the core definition of the Hebrew word for wisdom?
I don't know Hebrew but think the working definition might look something like "The fear of the Lord..."

Has anyone else ever considered that since Jesus was of Jewish ancestry, He (as a man) would have learned and lived by the Proverbs--as well as the rest of the OT? I've not read the book but have been absolutely captivated as I have been reading through Proverbs with that perspective.

I'm thinking the main body of Proverbs is specifically intended to be instruction of THE Father to His beloved Son.
Although Jesus never married while here, He has a bride that is supposed to be making herself ready for Him. And, the Proverbs 31 "excellent wife" description is not just a collection of practical instruction on how to recognize a good wife but is also (perhaps primarily) a picture of what the true Church (as a unit) should be striving for as we redeem the time.

Anyway, I don't know how many times I have read through Proverbs and completely missed the rich significance of Jesus having learned, memorized, and with true, godly wisdom, perfectly applied everything I read there.


Nash Equilibrium said...

The Proverbially-Propelled Person?

Hey, it doesn't use the word DRIVEN.

Nash Equilibrium said...

PS: I don't like the ethos behind "Purpose Driven" theology one bit.

However, that wascally old Rick Warren did do one thing right that (by appearances, at least) our good friend John MacArthur didn't do right: The former chose a catch phrase "Purpose Driven" that was trademarkable, and then he actually trademarked it. This allows him to do quality control on anyone who wants to use the phrase, a MAJOR benefit in this age where Emerg***s are apt to change the meaning of any word in the public domain. (e.g., "evangelical" - which effectively has been reduced to meaning nothing - or everything)

Contrast this with MacArthur, who did not trademark "Shepherd's Fellowship" (for example). Either because he didn't seek, or sought and didn't receive, good legal advice. Because of this, anyone can cabbage onto the name and apply it to any church they please, no matter what weird doctrines they may actually ascribe to. A brief Google search reveals to my untrained eye that there may already be some fringe ones are doing just that.

Respectfully submitted.

greglong said...

Thanks for the review, Dan.

Re: title for your book...

How about Proverbs for Dummies? Or, if you want something more Bibley, Proverbs for Simpletons?

DJP said...

I think Solomon copyrighted that name (1:2-6).


greglong said...

Good point!

Stefan Ewing said...

I have been taught that "wisdom" in a Biblical context basically means the application of God's Law to daily life. It seems to be a workable definition.

Nash Equilibrium said...

But I think "Proverbs for Sluggards" is still up for grabs!

DJP said...

Yeah, but a sluggard would buy the book, but never read it (12:27).

Or he'd bury his nose in it, but not open his eyes and read (26:15).

Craig and Heather said...

I have been taught that "wisdom" in a Biblical context basically means the application of God's Law to daily life. It seems to be a workable definition.

That sounds pretty good!

Maybe Dan's book could be titled "Living the Law".

I wonder. In light of Jesus' statement about the Scriptures telling of Himself (John 5:39) and Paul's writing that Christ is the "end" of the Law (Romans 10:4)-- isn't the point of learning and living what is written in Scripture to be humbly brought to and seek to maintain a life-long relationship with Christ?


Nash Equilibrium said...

Hmmm... books on tape? Kindle?

JackW said...

A Pyromaniac on Kindle?

Aaron said...


I too absolutely hate endnotes. I'm reading one of MacArthur's books on Pastoring (it's actually comprised of many authors) and the endnotes drive me batty. Who wants to flip to the end of the book three times per page? Give me some footnotes, please.

I'd too like to know the Hebrew definition of Wisdom. Care to share, or do we have to wait for your book? (which btw, I plan to preorder as soon as available).

DJP said...

Good people have tried to persuade me that there is a point to endnotes.

Good people have FAILED.

If you don't read them, you can skip footnotes.

If you do, you shouldn't have to flip to the end.

The days are long-gone where it is harder to type-set footnotes.

Nash Equilibrium said...

WHAT? You mean you think music should just end abruptly?

Rachael Starke said...

I'm another one who has always been kind of gun-shy about Proverbs. It used to feel kind of like The Law for New Testament Christians. No disrespect to Mr. Selvaggio, but I'm holding out for your book to help me make more Christo-centric sense of it.

Oh, and might I ask where the there is where hundreds of thousands of eligible single Christians are to be found? I've got more than one single (female) friend who would be just delighted to know. That would make a great footnote to this post. :)

Gregg Metcalf said...

Thanks for the review. I had put this on my wish list, but now thanks to your review I will look at some other books on Proverbs.

Anonymous said...

Wisdom: Heb. chokmâh
BDB Definition:
1) wisdom
1a) skill (in war)
1b) wisdom (in administration)
1c) shrewdness, wisdom
1d) wisdom, prudence (in religious affairs)
1e) wisdom (ethical and religious)

Helpful, no? Not especially.

Dan, how about "The Wisdom-Centered Life"?

Unknown said...

Just out of interest, what does Genesis 24 have to teach about the choice of a wife? Why did Abraham's servant pray as he did if any woman from among Abraham's relations would have done for Isaac?

DJP said...

The heart of the Hebrew word is skill, expertise in some area, whether skill as an artisan (Exodus 28:3; 31:3; 1 Kings 7:14; Isaiah 40:20, etc.), temple service (1 Chronicles 28:21), performance (2 Samuel 14:20), or the like.

Here in Proverbs I would sum it up as "skill in godly living," trying to hit at that nexus of knowledge and savvy that I think the word carries.

Waltke hits at the idea nicely on p. xi of his commentary: “As the course and bulk of biblical wisdom, the book of Proverbs remains the model of curriculum for humanity to learn how to live under God and before humankind.”

DJP said...

Ernest, Genesis 24 teaches that a father should command a slave of his to go pick a wife for his child. The father should make the servant put his hand under the father's thigh, and swear to get the girl only from a certain place and race. The husband-to-be should have no say in the process. The servant should ask God to meet certain expectations.

OR it doesn't teach US much of anything about courtship, per se.

Beware turning the descriptive into the prescriptive.

Sir Brass said...

DJP, taking that definition, then "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (while it still made sense before) makes ALOT more sense (or at least easier to understand/comprehend):

"Fear of the Lord is the starting place for being skilled in Godly living."

Unknown said...

"Beware turning the descriptive into the prescriptive."

With respect, that sounds to me like a recipe for writing off the majority of the OT as not relevant to today!

The point is that Isaac had to have a wife - but she could not be just anybody. Abraham's servant asked that he be led to one individual - the right individual for Isaac! That is all about guidance.

Surely the job of the preacher/ teacher is to discern the abiding principles devoid of their cultural context!

SandMan said...

Descriptive NOT prescriptive. I was thinking that before I read your last comment. People get into trouble like that with Acts, too. Wasn't Abraham's servant's Bible about 66 books lighter than ours is today? And wasn't God working to preserve the purity of the 2nd generation of His chosen people, Israel?
God speaks through His Word today, not audible voices, not burning bushes, pillars of fire, etc... Proverbs is a book that teaches us "skilled living." I love that description BTW. I also enjoyed following the links to previous book reviews. 2-3 for the price of one.

Unknown said...

"God speaks through His Word today, not audible voices, not burning bushes, pillars of fire, etc... "

Who said anything about this?! Setting up a strawman?!

Abraham's servant did not hear any voices or see a pillar of cloud. He was led providentially to the right person.

But the principle I am arguing for is that the modern day notion that God does not have a specific person in mind to be our helpmeet is utter nonsense!

Read the passage and marvel at the words "...let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac.."!!!

DJP said...

Yeah, Ernest, as I tried to tell you gently, that's a terrible position and a terrible handling of the passage and a terrible conclusion to draw. That way lies madness and slavery. Blackabism is abysmal.

Read the posts linked in the article. I hope they help. Meanwhile, back to topic.

Unknown said...

As I tried to tell you gently, I find your attitude cavalier and irresponsible.

I'll leave you now to your topic.

DJP said...

Wow, you worked through all those posts and all those metas that fast? Amazing.

trogdor said...

"Oh, and might I ask where the there is where hundreds of thousands of eligible single Christians are to be found? I've got more than one single (female) friend who would be just delighted to know. That would make a great footnote to this post. :)"


Get ahold of a copy of this book. Follow the advice of the last chapter: "If you can't find one, build one." It's a surprisingly rewarding venture, taking a young man and building into him to where he's fit to marry one of your friends.

Sadly, there is a distinct lack of men in many churches, and many of those who are still available are available for a reason (or twenty). So the options are often (1) wait for someone semi-perfect to just show up at your church and win the inevitable competition, or (2) have one of the rougher guys discipled and refined to become a real man. The latter takes more work, of course, but it's what the church oughtta be doing anyway.

And, um, Proverbs is great scripture to help with this process. Yep, totally on-topic here.

Craig and Heather said...

God speaks through His Word today, not audible voices, not burning bushes, pillars of fire, etc... Proverbs is a book that teaches us "skilled living.

God's Word is the Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:14). And when we read Scripture we are enlightened by the Holy Spirit to who He is and how badly we need Him.

If I go at a study of Proverbs (or any book of the Bible)and neglect to first ask God what it reveals about Christ, I am in danger of making the same mistake as the Pharisees who (I'm thinking, knew the original Hebrew quite well) were cut down by Jesus when He said You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. John 5:39:40

True Life is not found in the "words" of Scripture, but in the Word Who is the one of Whom those words testify. Jesus lived with a skill that we are invited to follow but that none of us can ever hope to fully attain. Reading of Proverbs has been incredibly humbling for me.


Unknown said...


I have read your lead article on "Blackabism" and deny that I hold to that view.

Would you label everyone who holds to God's providential leading as holding to Blackabism?

Applying a label in this case appears to be a lazy way of removing the obstacle.

DJP said...

Looks like a very lazy read, if you think I have the least problems with affirming God's providential, sovereign disposition of every detail of our lives.

Were you to read thoughtfully you'd find the crucial (and Biblical) distinction between what we are held accountable for learning and doing, and what God alone is accountable for deciding and accomplishing. All the difference in the world.

Craig and Heather said...

Perhaps Ernest has a point here concerning the principle behind the narrative.

And I do believe it is relevant to the topic of Proverbs and wise living because James 1:5 says If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.

Just a thought.


DJP said...

Perhaps that's one of the places he's going wrong. Many would misread that passage to mean "pray and God will tell you exactly who you should marry and what can of beans you should buy."

Craig and Heather said...


DJP, I'm not sure I'd place buying beans on the same level as who I'd marry. However, if I was struggling with, say, an ethical dilemma (stewardship of money) of purchasing one higher priced brand rather than another, I can see where the asking of wisdom would certainly be applicable.

For the record, my husband had pretty much given up the idea of finding "the right girl" by the time we met and had had basically left it in God's lap as far as whether he was even supposed to marry. We met at a church youth meeting and after several weeks, I felt compelled to march up to him and tell him that I liked him (totally out of character for me--and I was sure he would think I was a brazen hussy).

Turns out the "feeling" was mutual, we started dating on a somewhat casual basis and spent some time getting to know each other's families. After a few months, Craig's dad took him aside and basically told him to either get serious or get out of the relationship.

We've been growing together in Christ for almost 18 years now, and have no doubts as to whether God arranged our marriage.


DJP said...

Since you offer up yourself as an example, I'll use that.

Clearly you both made wise choices, and God blessed you in and after the process. You chose freely and wisely.

And in the eternal, sovereign counsel of God, it is the only choice either of you could have made.

However, theoretically, either of you could equally have married any of thousands of other eligible Christians wisely and ethically, and God would have blessed any of those unions as well.

Unknown said...

"pray and God will tell you exactly who you should marry and what can of beans you should buy."

Of course the 2 matters are identical!!

Get real! All I am arguing for is that in the big issues of life - where we live, who we marry, what church we attend, what service we engage in for the Lord etc. we dare not go off and do things without prayer and guidance. Of course we have biblical principles in these matters which we have to obey and honor. But, your bottom line is that God has no particular person, no particular place, no particular service etc. which to my mind does not marry with Scriptures and is quite frankly disturbing.

DJP said...

Then you are self-disturbed, Ernest, due to sloppy reading.

I've just never seen the point in taking more time to try to help someone who refuses to read what I've already read, particularly if he insists he hasn't misread.

Craig and Heather said...

I do see your point, DJP.

Actually, Joseph in Egypt comes to mind. I don't recall that he or his father had any say in who he would marry--but I'm certain the wife he was given had specific purpose in God's grand scheme. And certainly, God can direct us to choose well even when we are unaware of that direction.

My mind was mainly going in the direction of the exercise of our ability to "choose". And how, when the potential consequence of that choice is something that weighs on the conscience it is best to take it before the Lord before going in a direction.

I believe Paul addresses this when he wrote But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. . What that says to me is that if I am wondering about rightness, it is better to put off "eating" until I can do it with a clean conscience. I understand that this is the sort of thing James is also addressing.

I could be wrong....it's happened before.


Aaron said...

It's easy to see where Ernest's conclusions take you. Straight to polygamy. David a man after God's own heart, had how many wives?

Genesis is historical narrative. It's useful for us because it provides, among many other things, a reason why we need a savior. It is not an instructional guide on Godly living.

P.S. Dan, I agree with you on endnotes. It takes the same amount of effort as footnotes on all modern day word processing programs.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

"It's easy to see where Ernest's conclusions take you. Straight to polygamy. David a man after God's own heart, had how many wives?"

Wow! Why leave it at that? Why not make the accusations even more bizarre?

So the entire OT is of historical value only! Ever read 1 Corinthians 10.1-12? Look especially at verses like verse 11, which reads "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.."!! Not just as literary or historical curiosity upon which to exercise your brain, but to teach, admonish etc.

No wonder Christendom is in such an awful state!

You guys would never be able to preach like preachers of by gone ages (like Spurgeon) because you adopt a bankrupt liberal hermeneutical method!!

Craig and Heather said...

Well, I don't think the statement was made that the entire OT is only of historical value, Ernest.

But I would tend to agree with you that even the narrative is FAR more instructive than we tend to recognize. There are dozens of "pictures" and predictions of Christ and the nature of the unchanging I AM throughout the OT.

The Bereans in Acts 17 searched the OT Scriptures in order to verify the teachings of the disciples....


Unknown said...
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Aaron said...


I didn't say that the entire Old Testament or even that the only purpose of Genesis was to provide us with history. It is however, Genesis' primary purpose. That is not "spiritualizing" the Bible. Obviously, we can take some practical lessons away from seeing God's interactions with the patriarchs. That being said, Genesis is not a prescriptive book in that it is not meant as a guidebook on our behavior. For those points we look to books like the ones to the Corinthians, for example.

DJP said...

Dudes: Ernest is not listening. If he were, the derail never would have started, or it would have been over quickly.

Ernest has already been given a lot of reading and thinking to being to do if he ever chooses to do so. Each new attempt just provokes a repetition of the original mis-step, which neither helps him nor anyone else.

So I am now officially calling an end to the Rule 4 violations in this meta.